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The property tax system is the root of problems in Baltimore | READER COMMENTARY

Baltimore's overall property tax rate of $2.248 per $100 of assessed value is still about twice that of surrounding counties.
Baltimore's overall property tax rate of $2.248 per $100 of assessed value is still about twice that of surrounding counties. (Dan Rodricks / Baltimore Sun)

Two adjoining articles in the Sunday Baltimore Sun highlight key reasons why Baltimore is shrinking and affordable housing is becoming a problem for many Marylanders.

The first (“Hopkins students, community members march to highlight disparities in North Baltimore neighborhoods,” July 11) shows that many of those concerned about disinvestment and spreading poverty in the city continue to misdiagnose the root cause of these problems: the city’s punishing property tax rate, more than double that available a few miles away in the county. While the demonstrators are to be commended for their efforts to end racism, blaming all disparities in economic outcomes in the city on this “usual suspect” leaves the real perpetrator free to continue to harm city residents. The Maryland Public Policy Institute has written frequently about this issue in The Sun and offered a solution (“Think bigger than Port Covington,” August 2016). We hope the young idealists will someday join us in this reform effort.

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The second article (“Luxury apartment complex proposed near popular state park trailhead in Catonsville,” July 10) shows how the county’s competitive tax rate attracts investors who want to increase housing supply — in this case, by building 164 apartments on a tract that currently has a single house. Increasing supply relative to demand is, of course, the only reliable way to make anything more affordable. Predictably, however, NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) opponents are already calling the proposal “ridiculous” and raising fears about effects on traffic and school overcrowding to block the investment.

There is a happy medium here: If Baltimore’s tax system became competitive, investment would flow into rather than out of the city, economic opportunities in Baltimore would be enhanced, and pressure for sprawl reduced. It’s time for a grassroots movement to send this message to our political leaders.

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Steve Walters, Baltimore

The writer is the Chief Economist at the Maryland Public Policy Institute.

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